Matter of song and dance

Written by Sharmistha Gooptu | Updated: May 31 2009, 06:48am hrs
The Hollywood musical is a genre that has been widely researched and written on; by comparison, the Indian film music, or in broader terms, the filmi song and dance, is just beginning to make a presence in academic discourse. Since the coming of sound to Indian cinema in 1931, most films have had song and dance sequences, which were, for a long time, labeled as either escapist fantasies, or understood as a part of a typical Indian preference of narrative forms punctuated by lyrical interludes. More recently, others have argued for the Hindi film song as being a new popular art. Some of the questions that arose in this context were: Does the paradigm of the Hollywood musical as a genre apply to Indian cinema, or are we to evolve a new set of ideas when trying to understand song and dance in Indian/Hindi cinema. Does the song-dance have certain ideological functions that are uniquely Indian, or even Asian and Eastern Why does the Indian film industry insist on having a definite number of song and dance sequences in each film What can we make of the other lives of the Hindi film song as it occurs in music videos or in a stage production like Andrew Lloyd Webbers Bombay Dreams

All of these questions structure Sangita Gopal and Sujata Moortis edited collection of essays Global Bollywood: Travels of Hindi Song and Dance. In their introduction to the book, the editors produce a masterful and comprehensive overview of the issues at stake in an analysis of Hindi cinemas song and dance. As they rightly argue, to make the most sense of the Hindi films song and dance, it is important to study Hindi film songs, filmigit, and their dance routines, against a global trajectory of Hindi cinema. In this, they do not simply invoke the more recent backdrop of the globalisation of the Hindi film form, and the emergence of the Bollywood phenomenon. Rather, they make the case that Hindi film song had a global presence much before Bollywoods arrival as a global brand, and it was film songs which largely accounted for the global travels of the Hindi film much before the era of globalisation.

The essays in this collection encompass a wide range, and true to the books title, give a flavour of the peregrinations of the Hindi films song and dance. The contributors have looked at contexts as diverse as globalising Indonesia, where Hindi film music produced the hybrid form dangdut, to Egypt of the 1950s, where Hindi films found enthusiastic audiences. In all of these places, the writers argue, the Hindi film song proliferated as part of a hybrid modernity. Their examination of diverse contexts notwithstanding, the essays in this collection reinforce the salient point made by the editors, namely, the Hindi film song is much more complex and heterogeneous than has generally been recognised. It has meant different things to different people, and in different places. Whether on home ground itself, where the early talkie era was witness to a new genre of popular art that carried the flavour of modernity, or among Indians and non-Indians in other countries, the Hindi film song has had multiple resonances something that this collection of essays aptly encapsulates.

What one does miss in a collection of this nature is an article on the reception of Hindi film music in the rest of South Asia, most importantly in Pakistan, which is known for its love for Hindi films. All taken, however, this book is a welcome addition to the growing scholarship on Indian cinema, and more specifically, the newer field of the study of filmi music the song and dances which make our films so distinct and different.

The reviewer is an expert on Indian cinema